It’s Purdue week! This was supposed to be the game that Penn State used to get back on the path to bowl eligibility after taking its lumps against Ohio State, but our wonderful Nittany Lions threw a monkey wrench in those well-laid plans and pulled off the type of upset that most college football fans only get to dream about.
So what happens now? Well, Penn State has still got to beat Purdue or all those warm, fuzzy feelings from last Saturday’s big win will disappear in a hurry. If the Lions really have climbed over the proverbial hump, the next step will be establishing dominance over rebuilding programs like Purdue, which just fired its head coach two weeks ago.
Interim man Gerad Parker had his team playing tough against Nebraska in the most recent game for the Boilers, so they’ll be looking for continued improvement when Penn State comes to town. To talk to us about Purdue’s coaching change, its quarterback situation, and more, we found Travis Miller of Hammer & Rails. Welcome, Travis!
Black Shoe Diaries: Darrell Hazell was fired after the Iowa loss despite being just one win away from a career high at Purdue. Do most Boilermaker fans feel like the change was justified or were they willing to be more patient with the fourth-year head coach?
Hammer & Rails: It was absolutely justified. He was 9-33 as a head coach at Purdue and in most games the Boilers weren’t even competitive against mediocre at best competition. They lost 50-7 at Maryland and this is after home losses last season to Illinois (48-14), Indiana (54-36), and Minnesota (41-13). It was pretty clear that no progress was being made even after beating Nevada, Eastern Kentucky and Illinois (who aren’t exactly a murderer’s row). The same mistakes that were there in game one under Hazell (which was a 42-7 loss at Cincinnati) were still there in the Iowa loss. As we saw last week, Purdue was instantly a different football team with him gone.
BSD: Purdue looked like a raging tire fire in its loss to Maryland in the Big Ten opener, but since then the team has been much more competitive, defeating Illinois and putting a scare into undefeated Nebraska. What has changed since the Maryland disaster? How did the coaching change factor into Purdue’s performance in Lincoln?
H&R: Well, for one, Illinois sucks. There is no way around it. They are just a bad team. That said, Purdue’s offensive line was infinitely better against the Illini than it was against Maryland and it showed in the running game. Against Nebraska, Purdue just played with a lot more energy and finally went to more of a 4-3 look on defense to match up against the run than the absurd 4-2-5 that was getting torched repeatedly.
I think the coaching change was a huge factor at Nebraska. The players seem to have rallied around each other and there was a lot of talk about how there was an energy that had been absent for a long time. Gerad Parker has said that we’re going to play with nothing to lose because, really, there isn’t at this point. There is no reason to hold back because most of the staff is going to be gone at the end of the season anyway. Might as well go out guns blazing.
BSD: David Blough leads the Big Ten with 2,065 passing yards and is tied for second with 14 passing touchdowns. Is this a guy who can lead the Boilers to success in the future, or are these numbers inflated because Purdue is playing from behind all the time?
H&R: A think it is a little of both. He had an awful game against Cincinnati with five interceptions, but he has shown a lot of growth this year and absolutely picked apart Nebraska in the first half. He seems to have settled the quarterback position for now at least. It is nice to have a Purdue quarterback that can be consistent and Purdue seems to do better when it rolls him out of the pocket and he throws on the run. I would love to see him keep a little more on the read option because it has been there quite a few times for him to keep it and run for a lot of yards. That seems to be the next step in his progression.
BSD: After allowing two Iowa backs to rush for over 150 yards, Purdue’s defense stiffened against Nebraska, holding the Huskers to 157 total rushing yards on 37 carries. What changed in the defense from week to week?
H&R: Honestly, I think was energy and going back to a traditional 4-3. Coming into the season Purdue wanted to run more of a 4-2-5 despite having experienced linebackers and an inexperienced secondary. It has been a disaster. Last week everyone on the defense played much better and I think only weakened in the second half because Nebraska was better defensively (keeping our offense off the field) and a lack of depth on the defensive line led to fatigue. Purdue really needs Jake Replogle back in the middle as our best overall defender.
BSD: Two of Purdue’s top three tacklers are freshmen Markus Bailey and Navon Mosley. Are these guys the key that the next head coach needs to build a strong Boilermaker defense?
H&R: Both guys have been pleasant surprises this year and with Bailey paired with Ja’Whaun Bentley there are a couple of blocks to build on in the middle of the defense. There are definitely some pieces to build around, especially if Purdue can develop a more consistent pass rush.
BSD: What does interim head coach Gerad Parker need to do in order to be considered for the job in the future?
H&R: I would say at minimum he has to take us to a bowl game. If he won three of his last five he will have won more games in half a season than Hazell did in his first year. If he does something crazy like win all five remaining games I think not only would he be considered, he should get Big Ten Coach of the Year because it would be completely unexpected.
Honestly, I just want this team to show growth at every position, play hard, and at least be competitive. Anything else would be a very pleasant surprise. There is still a dearth of talent and depth at several key positions, but for the first time in a very long time last week there was some true fight.
BSD: The Boilers are 13-point underdogs on Saturday. How do you see the game going for Purdue?
H&R: It is hard to say. If first half Purdue from last week can show up for an entire game I can see them putting a scare into Penn State. There is the potential for a letdown from the Nits after a huge win last week and Purdue is truly playing with nothing to lose because absolutely no one expects much of anything from them. There are still some questions to the Penn State offense and your defense has not been great on the road. Penn State absolutely should win, but if Purdue gets a few breaks with some turnovers, an early score, and can play with a bit of a lead, who knows?
Thanks again to Travis Miller for taking the time to answer our questions. Remember to keep reading Hammer & Rails to stay up to date on the Boilermakers all season long.